Asia Urged To Innovate To Stay Competitive

June 26, 2007
China and India need to shorten innovation cycle to catch up with U.S. and Europe.

From China to Singapore, Asia must nurture a culture of innovation if the region is to emerge as a formidable global player. This was the conclusion at the recently held World Economic Forum (WEF).

"Innovation comes from countries that have the most educated workforce," Jim Goodnight, chief executive of based business intelligence software services firm SAS, told delegates. "I've often said that we're no longer in a Cold War that we once were, where we were in an arms race. Today's race is a race for minds and whichever country, whichever region can create the greatest set of minds are the ones that will eventually dominate the world."

While some Asian countries are stamping their mark on the global stage, only two from the region -- Singapore and Japan -- were in the top 10 of the WEF's latest international survey on competitiveness, WEF officials have noted.

Speakers at the forum, attended by about 300 delegates from 26 countries, said governments will play an important role in nurturing creativity among their people. Liu Jiren, chairman and chief executive of Chinese technology firm Neusoft, said China's challenge is cultivating a culture of innovation among its huge pool of talent that sees six million students graduating every year. While the government has rolled out several projects to support research and development, there was still a lack of direction, and planning remained based on outdated policies, he said.

Countries like China and India need to "shorten the period" of innovation if they are to catch up with the U.S. and those in Europe, Liu added.

Lamon Rutten, joint managing director of the Multi Commodity Exchange of India, said despite bureaucratic obstacles in the country, his company has come up with an innovative way to offer its commodity products to the masses, many of whom live in villages with no electricity. The company operates computers powered by car batteries. The computers are linked to the exchange through small satellite receivers, allowing the firm to count on mid-sized traders and cooperatives as among its customers, Rutten said.

"Asia is very well placed for disruptive innovation and that will give Asia a global competitiveness. Many in Asia live on less than two dollars a day, and to reach those people, you have to be very innovative," he said.

Lim Siong Guan, chairman of Singapore's Economic Development Board, said a key to the tiny city-state's success is its ability to innovate. With the cost of labor and land more expensive compared with its neighbors, the natural resources-starved nation had to think of ways to always be ahead of the competition, he said..

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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